The four-year-old legal fight between thriller writer John Nance and his former publishers St. Martin's Press and Doubleday has pretty much come to an end with an appeals court ruling against the author. Nance had sued Doubleday and St. Martin's for rejecting what became his Penguin book Blackout, asserting that the publishers had analyzed sales numbers for his previous book and decided not to publish it due to financial considerations, a decision he said amounted to negotiating in bad faith.
Last summer, U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein handed down a summary judgment against the author, ruling he hadn't proven the publishers rejected the book out of financial (as opposed to editorial) concerns, and ordered him to return the portion of the advance already paid him. Now the three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed the ruling and the lower court's "thorough opinion," though it added that its own decision should not be cited as precedent.
The case has attracted interest from various industry players. The Authors Guild had filed an amicus brief on behalf of the author, hoping to narrow the precedent that emerged from the landmark Tony Curtis case, which allowed a publisher to reject a manuscript using the broad rubric of editorial discretion. The Guild's Kay Murray said that because Stein had ruled that Nance had never proved that the publishers looked at his sales in the first place—and because the appeals court made a point of saying it couldn't be cited as an authority—the case didn't reinforce or undermine author's rights. "It was a wash as far as a precedent was concerned," Murray said.
But Linda Steinman, director of litigation for defendant Random House, said that while the case did not expand the Curtis precedent, the decision to uphold a summary judgment in a manuscript-rejection case was an important victory for publishers. "It means publishers might not have to get drawn into a long and expensive lawsuit," she said. She also noted that the trial-less resolution could have some hidden benefits. "I think this decision will be a deterrent to other authors considering similar suits."